'I try to do my best, but at the end of the day, I'm human': in conversation with Zendaya
Rising star Zendaya sits down with Independent.ie to discuss her new animated Smallfoot and the importance of staying true to yourself
Zendaya is a formidable force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. A former Disney star turned intimidating talent - she, at just 22, already has a career most actors twice her age would give their right arm for.
She is one of the big ticket attractions in Warner Bros. Smallfoot, a new animated feature which sends a message of acceptance in musical form, with characters by Channing Tatum, LeBron James and James Corden. It's told from the perspective of a group of Yetis living above the clouds to protect their culture - and safety - from the humans below. It strikes an age-appropriate tone of real-life messaging for its young audience, with some singing and dancing thrown in for good measure.
In the Yeti community, questions should never be asked, let alone answered; but Zendaya's character Meechee, the rebellious daughter of the village leader, has formed a secret alliance made of a ragtag group of outsiders, which do just that - ask questions.
"I love a strong girl. I personally enjoy the fact that she’s everything that everybody’s telling her she shouldn’t be," she tells Independent.ie in London. "She’s supposed to be basically a princess – her father is the leader of their little village or community - and she’s not supposed to question things that are told to her and, ‘This is how life is and how it’s supposed to be’. And if you’re the daughter of the person who protects these things, you’re never supposed to ask these things.
"But in real life, her and her group of kind-of outcasts and Yetis, she’s created this society literally to asking questions because she knows that there’s something out there – I find that really cool," she adds. "In this whole Yett community has decided who she should be, she’s really different than that. She’s allowing herself to define who she is."
In 2018, films are being held accountable for their influence on mainstream culture and messages of social responsibility, and this one, of learning to work together while accepting each others' differences, might be the most woke cartoon of the year. And why not take the opportunity to spread this message to an audience from an early age?
"I think little ones are a lot more receptive and understand a lot more than we give them credit for," Zendaya says.
"I think it’s important to instil positive messages and slowly creep those into things that are enjoyable for the whole family. I think that some of the messages received by the little ones will also be received by the adults and adults can understand a little bit deeper and have a different take away. As long as people leave happy and inspired, that’s the most important thing."
Zendaya is all too aware of the power of positive messaging and is a vocal supporter of equality in gender and race, and the LGBTQ community. This fiercely intelligent character which she plays holds some personal correlations for her and emphasises the importance of listening to your heart no matter what, just like Meechee.
"I think just about everybody has preconceived notions about what they should be and what their role should be, I think it’s important we still instil in ourselves what feels best in our hearts," she explains. "Also, just the fact that she’s curious and interested in learning, I try to learn as much as I can. You always want to do your best, you want to try…everybody wants to be perfect, right, and not make mistakes?
"I do try to do my best, but at the end of the day, I try not to put too much pressure on myself because at the end of the day, I’m a human and I can only do so much. What’s most important for me is just to follow my heart and I know that sounds corny, but it’s true.
"Whatever feels good to myself, I just try to do that and make decisions based off how I feel instead of how other people feel and those are usually the right decisions."